Canada Day is a time to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as Canadians. Few nations are so fundamentally committed to freedom, democracy and peace. These common values are the building blocks of a society of unparalleled diversity and tolerance that, while still a work in progress, deserves a national celebration.

But we shouldn’t allow the fireworks to divert our attention from a troubling trend. A belligerent secularism has a hold on popular culture and is causing a re-interpretation, if not a re-definition, of two fundamental Canadian rights — freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

Jesuit Father James (Jim) Martin is quickly becoming one of my favourite religious writers and orators. And the more I read of his works or watch his talks on TV and the Internet, the more impressed I become.

This American Jesuit thinks clearly, speaks and writes directly, and best of all, he is funny, although he has serious messages. (He is the official chaplain of Comedy Network’s The Colbert Report where he sometimes appears.) He is a populist who endeavours to make Catholicism ever more popular.

If you’re looking for summer reading, Fr. Martin has several best-selling books, including My Life With the Saints, A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Centre Stage with Jesus, Judas and Life’s Big Questions, and the Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

I was a little embarrassed watching the coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin. Not because of anything that went on in Ireland, but rather because of my original attitude toward the congress being held there at all. Yet watching the pilgrims from around the world gathering in Dublin, I saw that their gestures of sympathy and solidarity were better than an attitude of ostracism and punishment.

When it was announced in 2008 at Quebec City that the 2012 IEC would be in Dublin, I was rather dismayed. I understood that sometimes a local Church in distress can be buoyed by such an international event — after all, that was the logic of having the IEC in Quebec City to begin with, to administer an emergency transfusion to the anemic local Church. Yet Dublin struck me as a step too far. After all, it would be hard to find any place where spectacular incompetence had brought the Church into greater crisis than in Ireland. And Irish society as a whole, led by its government, was hardly better.

I cannot abide bishop bashing.

The habit in some Catholic circles of remorselessly denouncing and denigrating our prelates for perceived failures to lead, to act, to show courage, to boss the world about, sets my teeth on edge.

It is difficult to imagine a role outside the world of electoral politics that requires a broader back, a thicker skin and a finer ability to manage expectations than that of a North American Catholic bishop in 2012.

And so it begins.

The B.C. Supreme Court has overruled Parliament to decree it lawful for a doctor to kill Gloria Taylor. Canada’s first legal physician-assisted suicide will occur when (and if) Taylor decides to proceed, despite Criminal Code statutes forbidding assisted suicide and valid concerns that Canada is on a slippery slope towards indiscriminate euthanasia.

According to the legal logic of Madam Justice Lynn Smith, a disabled person’s constitutional rights must include an equal opportunity to commit suicide. Suicide is legal in Canada but aiding suicide is not. But when illness or disability makes someone physically incapable of killing themselves, they deserve a helping hand,  Smith ruled.

My husband and I come from different backgrounds and we often have lively discussions. But one time I blurted out something that left us both stunned.

We were attending the Ontario University Fair at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. Along with thousands of others, we came to speak with representatives from Ontario’s 21 universities. We have two kids in high school and, like most kids, they have multiple options after graduation. At the fair, students trudged from one booth to another seeking an answer to the question all young people face at some point: “What do I want to do when I grow up?”

Many of you by now have heard about the Vatican’s doctrinal investigation into the words and actions of American nuns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the main protector of right Catholic thinking, released an official document a few weeks ago outlining several concerns.

The CDF is generally worried about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents about 80 per cent of America’s nuns, because of what the Vatican sees as a move away from orthodoxy into a more freewheeling Catholicism, a blend of American independence and secular thinking mixed with some right belief. In other words, the nuns are Catholic but not Catholic enough.

The CDF said the nuns’ leaders, not necessarily the rank-and-file women on the ground, have drifted into “radical feminism” and speakers at leadership events have expounded “moving beyond the Church and even beyond Jesus.”

The investigation did not pop out of thin air. It was launched in 2008 but apparently the Vatican telegraphed its concerns to the LCWR as early as 2001.

American mainstream media has played this as the bullies from the Vatican picking on the nuns. In three stories on the issue by The New York Times, America’s paper of record, not once does anyone appear to defend the CDF.

On June 1 one of these stories led with the following:

“The American nuns who were harshly condemned by the Vatican in April as failing to uphold Catholic doctrine finally responded on Friday in their own strong terms, saying the Vatican’s assessment was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and a ‘flawed process,’ and has caused scandal, pain and polarization in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Another story had this as its second paragraph:

“The bus tour (the sisters are undertaking) is a response to a blistering critique of American nuns released in April by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, which included the accusation that the nuns are outspoken on issues of social justice, but silent on other issues the Church considers crucial: abortion and gay marriage.”

“Harshly condemned,” “blistering” and “accusations” may seem like mere words, but they are in fact editorializing as to what the Vatican was doing to the nuns. Any non-Catholic reader, or any reader for that matter, gets the impression that the CDF has parked naval destroyers along the U.S. coast  as part of a full-fledged action against defenseless sisters. That rings especially true when the stories have absolutely no balance.

The nuns do have a case. Some of the language used in the CDF document is hard to understand. I am not sure what a “radical feminist” is and complaints about certain speakers attending LCWR events seem picky. The nuns are often the ones on the frontline dealing with the most difficult cases in society, and so to improvise on what the Church teaches may not be an act of a rebel but of someone finding a pastoral solution in a situation demanding immediate action.

But anyone who has any loyalty to the Church has to believe that the Vatican does not act on a whim. God knows no one has ever accused Rome of acting too quickly. That which may seem petty or even vindictive to The New York Times has a more profound meaning for those who do not make decisions by popularity polls or to satisfy current trends.

The Vatican must obtain a certain order, demands certain obedience, because that is how the Church has survived and thrived for 2,000 years. Those demands may rankle the ears of those outside the Church, but frankly that should not be the concern of Rome.

But there is more here that should concern Catholics, especially Catholics who have bought into the storyline that the Church leadership is made of ogres and should simply leave the sisters alone.

A part of me believes that what we are seeing is just more anti-Catholicism at the expense of the sisters. The very idea that journalists are jumping to the nuns’ defence probably has more to do with a chance to bash the Church rather than aid the good sisters.

When this fight has passed and is long forgotten many of those same people who today love the nuns will continue to find ways to attack the Catholic Church — and perhaps the nuns themselves on an occasion when they are no longer media darlings.

(Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and he is the editor of the paper’s religion site, Holy Post.)

Wherever he goes — to work, back home, on a business trip — Mark Shriver carries in his briefcase a remnant of the greatest inheritance he received from his dad, the late Sargent Shriver.

After his dad died last year, Mark Shriver was researching and reflecting on what made his dad A Good Man, which became the title of a book written in his honour, which came out just in time for Father’s Day. In addition to the public record of his dad’s accomplishments and words, found in news articles and in the text of his speeches, Mark Shriver retained something much more precious — copies of notes that his dad had slipped under his door nearly every day as he was growing up.

WHITEHORSE, YT - Last week I wrote about my impressions of the Yukon on my first trip to Canada’s north. In many ways it is altogether different from anything I have previously encountered in Canada’s cities, or even in my parish on Wolfe Island. At the same time the Yukon raises questions that the Church in all of Canada must face.

It is frankly astonishing that anyone lives in some of these remote communities, where a summer visitor is impressed by the natural beauty but year-round residents have to cope with isolation and lack of services, to say nothing of the severe cold and oppressive darkness of the punishing winter. To imagine living up here in the early 20th century, before roads and four-wheel drive trucks and propane gas heating and food preservatives is mindboggling, especially given that an overland trek of several weeks would deliver one into the Okanagan, one of the loveliest climates anywhere in the world.

The Ontario government’s so-called anti-bullying legislation, Bill-13, is a failure of lawmaking.

It mocks religious freedom and disrespects parental rights. It undermines the authority of elected trustees and school principals by giving veto power to children and teens with respect to some after-school clubs. It awards special status to certain types of bullying rather than uniformly attacking bullying in all its forms.

They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and that may be so.

But there is something special about an old dog, and he (or she) can often teach an owner a thing or two. Puppies are adorable, but old dogs are like comfortable shoes that when slipped on can sometimes walk us to unexpected places.

(If you’re not a pet lover, I implore you to stop reading immediately and move onto something else in The Register. These meanderings from a sappy dog lover will only frustrate you.)